Is this another one of Marvel’s “point one” issues? Yes. Is it a flashback story? Also yes. But the real question is, is it a good Spider-Man story?
“Learning To Crawl, Part One: The Show Must Go On”
WRITER: Dan Slott
ARTIST: Ramón Pérez
COLORS: Ian Herring
LETTERS: Chris Eliopoulos with Joe Caramagna
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: We open immediately after the last panel of Amazing Fantasy #15, with Peter Parker, as Spider-Man, walking home to his house in Forest Hills, blaming himself for Uncle Ben’s death, realizes that “with great power there must also come great responsibility,” which he takes to mean that, with his uncle gone, he has to be the “man of the house.” Next morning, Aunt May makes them breakfast and, realizing she made Ben a plate, begins to sob just as the phone rings. Peter answers, and explains to the caller he’ll be handling Uncle Ben’s estate, then spends the rest of that morning paying bills and making funeral arrangements—which exhausts all the money he made performing as Spider-Man. So as Spidey, Peter goes to see his agent, Maxie Schiffman, to book another gig. Schiffman shows Spidey the latest issue of The Daily Bugle in which has the capture of Uncle Ben’s killer, suggesting this would be great publicity for Spidey if the public saw him as a hero. Furious, Spidey, pushes Schiffman against the wall and says, “I will not profit off of this! In any way!” and Schiffman backs off.
At Midtown High, the principal tells Peter he’s been skipping class as of late, and that while he understands Peter is going through a difficult time, tells Peter that the best way to honor his Uncle is to keep up with his studies. Liz Allan invites Peter to watch the upcoming Spider-Man TV special at her place that weekend with her friends, but Peter, having perform as Spidey that same evening, tells her has to see the “eye doctor,” which gets Liz upset. Flash Thompson, having overheard this, harasses Peter telling to go to Liz’s party and to stay away from her—to which Peter sarcastically asks “So which is it?” and calls him an idiot. Flash challenges Peter to a fight, but a teacher breaks it up before it can start. Meanwhile, Clayton Cole (from the “Learning to Crawl” prologue from Amazing Spider-Man #1 (2014)) gets a ticket to Spidey performance and is among those in attendance. Also watching, on television, are Flash, Liz, and their friends, J. Jonah Jameson, and the Chameleon. The TV host asks Spidey how he’s able to shoot webs, and Spidey reveals his web-shooters and that he invented them. Clayton, thrilled that Spidey is also a “tech-head” like him, goes home to make his own wrist-devices.
Peter and Aunt May attend Uncle Ben’s funeral and when Peter asks why his aunt is smiling during the service, she says it’s because they’re surrounded by friends and loved ones—everyone whose life was made better because of Uncle Ben. During the wake, Peter and Aunt May receive casseroles from the mourners, each one telling a story of how Ben helped them out financially when they needed it the most, which comes as a complete surprise to Peter given how Ben and May never had much money. Aunt May, however, explains that for Uncle Ben “those with the most have a responsibility.” When Peter says they were only paid back in casseroles, May says how “people give back in other ways” and you don’t do the right thing because you expect “the universe to pay you back.” Over at the film studio, the new prop man, Quentin Beck, expresses concerns to Schiffman wanting to launch real saw blades at Spidey in the next act instead of prop ones, but Schiffman insists it has to be the real deal as that’s what the crowd is paying to see. Beck reluctantly allows it, but says he needs to rehearse the act with Spidey ahead of time as he won’t be held responsible if something goes wrong.
Later, Aunt May walks with Peter to Midtown High, and when Peter wonders why, he sees waiting for them the principal and the school counselor. Peter, since he need to go rehearse his Spider-Man act, wants to get out of meeting with the counselor, but Aunt May insists, saying how it will be good for Peter to talk to someone about Uncle Ben. During their session, the counselor talks about the fight Peter almost started with Flash. He mentions how Peter is usually the kind of person that’s smart enough to walk away from a fight, and asks if Peter has ever thrown a punch in his life. Peter, thinking about the Burglar, says “once,” and when the counselor asks if that would’ve solved anything, Peter says it would’ve had he done it sooner. The counselor tries to explain to Pete that bad things happen, that his uncle’s death wasn’t his fault, but Peter says that he has to leave. While performing as Spidey, Peter’s spider-sense goes off, and realizes the buzz-saws being launched at him are real. Instinctively, he kicks one away only for it to cut through the studio’s scaffolding. Spidey, however, quickly webs up the scaffolding before it can collapse into the audience, and the crowd, believing it was part of the show, applauds. Backstage, however, the manager is furious that people could’ve been killed and kicks both Spidey and Schiffman out, promising he’ll put the word out on how much a “menace” Spider-Man really is. The issue ends with Jonah writing his first scathing editorial against Spidey, and Clayton putting on his costume for the first time and dubbing himself…Clash!
THOUGHTS: This isn’t the first time we have seen a story set between the events of Amazing Fantasy #15 and the original Amazing Spider-Man #1. In the 1990s, Untold Tales of Spider-Man writer, Kurt Busiek, wrote a three-part story that ran though Amazing Fantasy #16 to #18 which was also a story that dealt with Peter’s coming to grips with Uncle Ben’s death and his path to becoming the Spider-Man we know and love today. We also had a story by J.M. DeMatties and Stan Lee as a back-up in Amazing Spider-Man #400 entitled “The Morning After” which, as the title says, took place the following morning after Uncle Ben’s murder—which contradicts the breakfast scene we see in this first chapter of “Learning to Crawl.” However, taking this comic its own merits, I’d have to say this was good. In fact, this is some of the best work Dan Slott has done with Spider-Man in quite some time.
After the over-the-top craziness of that was The Superior Spider-Man, it feels so refreshing to get a Spider-Man story from Slott that is not only back-to-basics but down-to-earth, one in which the characters drive the narrative, not the other way around (with only one exception which I’ll get to later). As this story reminds us, Peter is only a fifteen-year-old boy who is still reeling from the loss of the closest person he’s ever had as a father, who also blames himself for what happened, and is not interested in other people’s pity or charity. The last thing on his mind would be to become a superhero right after his uncle’s murder, so he does what anyone else in his place would do—take care of Aunt May and be the provider. Even it means continuing to “[dance] around for everyone like a trained bear” and having no enjoyment in doing so. It’s both brilliant and believable characterization readers can relate with.
It also did a fine job at showing not only what Uncle Ben meant for Peter and Aunt May, but how he affected the lives of everyone else who knew him. The scene where Uncle Ben’s friends approach Peter and Aunt May, telling them how he helped pay for their son’s hospital bills or their mortgage payments, and never asked for any money in return even though he had little of it himself really not only gives you an idea of just what a great person Peter’s uncle truly was and underscores Peter’s sense of guilt even more. It also foreshadows how, in time, Peter, by being Spider-Man, metaphorically becomes his Uncle Ben as well, allowing him to live on by following his example.
If there was one sour note to the story, however, it was the scene between Peter and Flash at Midtown High. I couldn’t help but compare how Flash’s portrayal during a similar scene in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and this one, as unlike the film where Flash attempts to console and apologize to Peter after hearing what happened, in this comic, Flash comes off as a jerk just because. To be fair, Flash, from his point-of-view, thinks Peter is ungrateful of Liz’s obvious sympathetic gesture and is responding to this in the only way he knows how. Nevertheless, it still comes of as a scene that serves to give Peter something else to be angry about, not to mention set-up the later scene with the counselor.
Being that this is also taking place within the first few months of Peter becoming Spider-Man, there is dramatic irony aplenty. Spidey doesn’t want Maxie Schiffman exploiting the capturing of Uncle Ben’s killer, and we know Peter will one day become a photographer who takes pictures of himself as Spider-Man doing heroic deeds. Spidey lamenting how he has no make atonement for his Uncle’s death for the rest of his life, only believing it will be as an entertainer. Quentin Beck shows concern for Spider-Man’s safety, the same Quentin Beck who will become Mysterio, one of Spidey’s more formidable enemies. And of course, as writes Jonah’s editorial of how the youth of America will be inspired by and idolize “costumed freaks” like Spider-Man instead of real heroes such as firefighters, soldiers, and astronauts, and we see, in the case of Clayton Cole, this very thing starting to happen. Readers who are familiar with Spider-Man will no doubt appreciate this, although I have to wonder about those who may pick this up who are not all that familiar with Spider-Man’s comic book adventures.
Speaking of Clayton Cole, it already seems apparent how his arc will develop over the course of this story, that in an attempt to emulate his idol, some catastrophe will ensue for which Spidey will be blamed. And because Clash was inspired by Spidey, this is what will make Peter decide to give up being a mere entertainer and start trying to set a better example. Still, I find the concept behind Clash to be an intriguing one: a wealthy, spoiled, and brilliant over-achiever who, upon thinking his idol is just like him, decides to become a super cosplayer. Its not entirely original (after all, its basically what Syndrome was in Pixar’s The Incredibles(2004)), but I like the way Slott interweaves this idea with Spider-Man, and uses it to compare both Peter and Clayton. Even so, it helps to have read the back-up story in Amazing Spider-Man #1 (2014) to get a better feel for Clayton, which is a bit of a downside.
Yet what makes this issue really shine is the excellent artwork by Ramón Pérez. Along with Ian Herring’s colors which uses a more somber, naturalistic tone, Pérez perfectly captures the esthetic of Steve Ditko’s early Spider-Man stories without being a blatant imitation. In particular, the look of Spidey’s costume, with its smaller eyes, underarm webbing, blue that’s almost black, and more net-like webbing is very reminiscent of Ditko’s original design. Some may find it odd to see the more anachronistic look of Peter, Aunt May, Flash, Liz, and Schiffman within more modernistic decor, but I think it helps to add a sense of timelessness to the story along with being a homage to the past.
Some might be wary of purchasing this given that it’s been published as part of Marvel’s “point one” gimmick and that it’s technically a mini-series, but they need not be worried. Just like the “Learning to Crawl” prologue, I was pleasantly surprised by this comic. It stands as a very good character-study of Peter during one of the most difficult period’s of his life, capturing his emotions and internal conflicts of how he can honor his Uncle’s final lesson and make amends. It’s a promising beginning that, and earns a well-deserved:
- I mentioned this before in my “Nerdy Nitpicks” for Amazing Spider-Man #1 (2014), but what year is this story taking place? Thanks to Marvel officially establishing that the spider bit Peter “13 years ago,” the time should be 2001, and yet we things modern looking flat-screen TV’s, smartphones, and notebook computers that suggest this story is taking place in the present day. Oh well, I guess 13 years from now, it will look right.
- Maxie, I think that ventriloquist has more “assets” than you might think. After all, she was able to make herself and her dummy apparently say “Spider-Man?!” with two different voices at the same time. Or was she just moving the dummy’s jaw out of habit when she saw Spidey? Hmm…
- Also, Maxie, even though you demanded real saw-blades as opposed to fake ones, based on how fast they were coming out of Quentin Beck’s launcher, it still would not have looked like a “cheap special effect” by any means. Oh, sure, it wouldn’t have actually cut Spidey if those saw-blades were fake, but given their speed, they still would’ve hurt plenty had they hit him.
- While Clayton’s Spidey inspired costume does indeed looks cool, purple and white isn’t exactly a design “clash.” Although, if Pérez did go with the purple and yellow combination like he originally wanted, I do admit it would’ve been too “Electro.” Although, based on the apparent power-set Clayton may have, it does seem to be going very “Shocker.”